WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign-in-waiting pushed back Monday on “smears” it said he faces regarding his physical contact with women, as a new accuser emerged to say the former vice president crossed the line into indecency.
Biden’s spokesman pointed to doctored or misleading photographs that have circulated on the internet for years spotlighting what the 76-year-old Democrat himself describes as a “tactile” campaign style.
With two women in the past week going public to recount how Biden inappropriately touched them years ago, scrutiny on his history of unwanted contact has surged as he considers a presidential campaign.
“These smears and forgeries have existed in the dark recesses of the internet for a while,” the spokesman, Bill Russo, said in a statement, referring to images that show Biden being overly familiar with women and children.
“And to this day, right wing trolls and others continue to exploit them,” he added.
The push-back comes as a Connecticut woman said Biden inappropriately touched her at a 2009 political fundraiser when he was vice president.
“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” Amy Lappos told Connecticut’s Hartford Courant newspaper.
“He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”
Lappos, 43, said she never filed a complaint because she believed it would go nowhere, but she was aware of the line of decency and respect that should have been honoured.
“Crossing that line is not grandfatherly,” she said. “It’s not cultural. It’s not affection. It’s sexism or misogyny.”
Biden has yet to declare his candidacy, but he is already the early favourite to win the Democratic nomination and challenge Donald Trump in next year’s election.
Biden was hit last week with an accusation by former Nevada state lawmaker Lucy Flores, who recalled being “mortified” when he planted a “big, slow kiss” on the back of her head as she waited to take the stage at a campaign rally five years ago.
He issued a statement Sunday saying he would respectfully listen to women who accused him of misconduct, but that in his decades of public life, “not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately.”
Biden has had a reputation for awkwardly touching the wives, mothers or daughters of senators during swearing-in ceremonies.
He came under criticism for massaging the shoulders of Ash Carter’s wife in 2015 as her husband was sworn in as secretary of defence.
Photographs of that incident have circulated online so frequently that Stephanie Carter posted a column Sunday saying Biden was merely “a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.”